Watch and read Claire Mawisa’s inspiring talk at Successness Fest 2017
Claire’s inspiration highlight: “The one thing that people don’t often prepare you for is to accept, understand and recognise failure. Right? You fail, and you will fail more than you will ever succeed.” This is a full transcript of Claire’s talk at SUCCESSness Fest Cape Town:
Today I’m going to talk about staying power and longevity and mostly around your career, and hopefully I’ll be able to share some insights that I’ve learnt along my life and hopefully it will resonate with where you are in your life and, hopefully it will help.
And I was just saying earlier that, when you do start working or you do start your career path or you start being an entrepreneur, there’s nothing in your life that thinks – you don’t really think: “Oh, I want to have staying power and longevity!”. Yes, I guess we all want to be successful right? But I don’t think we actually, consciously think about how we can have staying power and longevity at least not at the beginning. But when I look back and I connect the dots looking backwards over my 25-year career, then I can see what was instilled in me at that time to help me make the right choices that led me to today.
So I will share with you my life story, and how I got to be standing in front of you today. and that song is really incredible because it talks about the fact that, every single day I get up, I fall down, I make mistakes, I get up again and I try again, and the next time you see me I’ll be walking. So having staying power is not a series of giant leaps, it’s actually a series of baby steps.
And what are those baby steps?
Firstly, let me introduce you to Gloria Mawisa, Gloria Mawisa is my mother. She’d be very proud that she’s on a presentation that I’m doing. When I was very young I still remember the fact that my mother instilled certain values in me, certain principles. She was very big on who we are and what we do, not just as women but as a family, right. And so I had a clear sense of what was right, what was wrong, what was good and what was bad. So if it felt good I did it, if it didn’t feel good I did not do it. It was really that simple. When somebody instils those values into you, you go out into the world with a sense of awareness or a sense of self. You’re just watching how people are doing certain things. That really helped me develop a moral compass. And that moral compass helped me make certain decisions in my life.
And so my mother was very instrumental in giving me an idea of who I was and what did I want. She also made it very clear to me, at a very young age, that every single thing I did today, tomorrow and the next day, was building me up to become the person that I wanted to be at the end of my very long life. She told me life was long, and so it made me also very aware of my interactions, the relationships I was building, how I treat people – even the doorman! And it’s very true, with that outlook on life at a very young age, it really helped me a lot.
At 14 years old I was walking around at the Waterfront with my friends and a lady came up to me and she pushed a piece of paper into my hand, and she was like: “ I think you’d make a great model” and I was like: “Really?” And my friends were celebrating, they were like, oh my god yes yes yes. And so because of peer pressure I decided to do it because I wanted my friends to think I was cool. That modelling career changed the trajectory of my life. It opened up so many things to me. I was living a very sheltered life and modelling really opened the world up to me. I was the first one in my family to go overseas, and that was monumental. And suddenly I had so many choices.
So now I have my moral compass. I’ve got my values and principles and I know who I am and I know what we do as a family and as a woman, as a black South African women as well. But now opportunities were coming my way left, right and centre. And opportunities will come to you as well, and what I want to let you know is that firstly, opportunities are not always good. I think people think opportunities are always good. But sometimes opportunity looks good at the beginning, but it leads down a darker and darker path, right? Some opportunities, when they do come up, they look very tempting, especially if they’re going to add money to your pocket, right! We all want some of that. No not booty, money in the pocket. And so one of the things that I learnt was that if I used those values and those principles to guide my decision making in those incredible opportunities, it became very clear what my goals and directions were. I knew who I wanted to be, and I thought to myself: “Ok cool is this taking me closer to who I want to be or is it taking me further away from who I want to be?” A lot of you are sitting with incredible business opportunities, and you sometimes say to your friend: “Well it looks really great, and it’s a lot of money right now and I need it, and it’s low-hanging fruit, it’s doable.” But it may be that low-hanging fruit that can compromise the rest of your career if you grab it. Do you understand? Do you get me? So sometimes you have to make that decision so that your path can be clear. Luckily I had a clearer sense of who I was and I knew where I was going, so the distractions of all these incredible opportunities didn’t really deter me because I kind of knew who I was, and I was grateful for my mother for instilling that in me.
And so modelling led to TV, which was great. For some of you who are old enough to remember, I was one of those annoying SABC1 continuity presenters in the early 2000s! We had a lot of fun and that was who I was. I was on TV and life was wonderful. When that job came to an end I decided to go overseas, to cold, rainy, dark, sad England. I went there and I thought to myself, you know let me have a good time on my own. Well I did and I came back to nothing. I had no money, I had no job, I was essentially homeless, I was sleeping on my friends’ couches, I had no place to stay.
So it really felt a little bit like I knew I had skills, I knew who I was, I had clear goals and directions, I knew where I wanted to be, I had a long set of goals and I thought to myself: “How is this going to happen for me?” And one thing that people don’t prepare you for, is preparing you to accept and understand and recognise failure. Right. You fail, and you will fail more than you will ever succeed. But the biggest success-stories in life have failed more than you and I have ever tried. So if you think of the Oprah’s and the Warren Buffet’s maybe the Matsepe’s, right. Sure, the reason they are so successful is because they’re the best at what they do and that’s wonderful. But what we don’t see are all their failures. Why? Because we fail in silence and we tell no one about it. We own the shame and the humiliation. We take it very personally and we wallow and we think: “Oh my business is never going to win, I should just give this up” But it’s at this stage in most people’s lives, when they’ve been trying and trying and trying, they’re doing good, they’re trying to do the right thing, they’ve got a great business idea, and they’re pushing hard, and they know exactly what they want, but they’re just not getting the results that they want. And usually at this time this is when people fail, or not fail, this is when they stop trying!! That’s when they are centimetres from getting to the diamonds in the mine, they are centimetres away, yet they give up..
And so this is a feeling that I’ve learnt to be very comfortable with. I know that if I fail, I shouldn’t take it personally. I’m standing here looking rather cute on stage, but I have failed more times than you would ever imagine. Badly, dismally, humiliating failure. But as time has gone on I’ve realised: “Oh ok, this is part of my story”. I can’t take it too personally, this is what happens and this is just what’s happening to me right now.
I remember when I was in primary school, I don’t know if you remember as well, when you were in primary school, when you did something really, really great the teach would come up and put a gold star right here, and you’d feel like a rock star, and you think to yourself: “Yeah look at me!” I remember whenever I got that gold star, I’d try and keep it on my forehead for as long as possible. You know, I’m sweating, and playing, I go home, I wash but I’m trying to wash around the gold star. I must be excellent even in my dreams. And I remember the feeling it gave me. It was such a powerful and amazing feeling, to the point where now I have a son, and I’ve bought like big packs of gold stars and I just dish them out on his forehead so he can get that feeling. But the aim of that was to retain that feeling of excellence, it was a sign that I had done something that was incredible, amazing. I had gone above and beyond. So what I learnt, that even if I was not the prettiest, the thinnest, the tallest, the smartest, the wittiest, the best or most qualified at that job, I thought to myself I always needed to be excellent. And it’s free and easy to be excellent. So in all of the things that people don’t think are important I tried to be excellent: I arrived early, I had a positive attitude, I caused no drama, I was not a diva, I cleaned up after myself, I asked what could I do, I was helping people fold envelopes and fax things and email things, I was running around at any office in any space where I could, trying to add value.
Another thing that I also learnt is that it doesn’t matter how good you are in what you do, if you are difficult to work with, nobody’s gonna wanna work with you, even if you are the most talented person in the room or in that industry. I’ve worked in radio as a programme manager and we’ve had incredible DJ’s and presenters but unfortunately we always let the great ones go because they get caught up in their own hype, they stop arriving early, they stop doing their work because they think they’ve arrived and well, “Here I am and you should just bask in my amazingness”. And they stop trying to be excellent, they stop pushing. So I’m here to try and also encourage you to go the extra mile in whatever you do. The extra mile. It’s very spacious there, cause no one else is there except for you., ok, push harder and be excellent, there enough mediocre people in the world, there enough mediocre people in the world. And it doesn’t matter what you doing, if you’re a florist be the best God damn florist in the world, try hard to do that to the best of your ability. Because people will remember that, and if people remember that, they’ll want to continue building a relationship with you, right? They want to be able to have somebody in their lives that they can rely on and without those relationships, your career’s dead in the water. because it’s all about how we make people feel, it’s all about trying that extra mile and just pushing a bit harder.
So I always think of that feeling that I want. I want that gold star. Adults don’t get them I don’t know why. That sucks! In the career that I’ve chosen, which is media and broadcasting, it’s a very fickle career. It really relies on other people approving and deciding or choosing whether you’re in or hot or fabulous or great, whether you’re the “IT” girl or not. And so there’ve been many times when I’ve pushed really hard, I’ve done all the right things, I’ve got my moral compass going, I’m trying to be excellent, and still things don’t work out for me. And so I tell people one of the greatest characteristics you could ever have, whatever business you are in, also just in life in general, one of the best things that you could have is the ability to bounce back. Resilience! Resilience is probably the most powerful characteristic you will ever have. Earlier on I spoke about the fact that you will always fail. Guaranteed, shit will hit the fan. It’s not if, it will. It’s inevitable, it’s coming. So when you know it’s coming and when it does happen, yes it can knock you down. But like the great saying goes: “Fall down 7, get up 8”. Right? Yes, you with me? Got it. So resilience is something that I’ve learnt is extremely powerful. Learn how to bounce back. Learn how to take something from your failures. What was the lesson? What are you supposed to be taught now? What will you do differently? Interrogate, do a personal audit, figure it out and use that knowledge to then come back and attack your goal again, whatever it is. If that fails you learn again, and you bounce back. So I’ve learnt that resilience, more than anything, has been one of the greatest things that I’ve learnt to develop because yeah, like I said, there are detours, potholes, speed bumps, hurdles, you name it, it’s gonna happen. And, if you have a sense of self, if you stop taking things to heart and so personally, it’s so much easier to learn the lesson from a distance than it is to internalize the pain of failure.
The reason why I like the song that I started out with is because it talks about walking. The lyrics of the song talk about the fact that a lot of people want to get there really quickly, they want to run and they really want to fly through it all. The message I feel in that song, talks about the fact that slow and steady still wins the race. Having a long career, yes it sounds very impressive and I say 25 years to my friends, cause I look 25 right? No. it sounds really impressive, but really it’s made by little baby steps, accumulated one on top of the other. It’s those very small incremental changes and improvements that you make in your life on a daily basis that will get you to your end goal.
I also just wanted to say, there’s a lot of people that all understand what the glass ceiling is. But there is also something called the glass bottom! We know the glass ceiling but there is also something called the glass bottom. The glass bottom is something that we think we’re too good for: “I’m not going to do that because that’s why they’ve got Eunice, Eunice must just do the thing because I’m too good for that”. Well I’m here to tell you you’re not too good for anything. Success is not owed to you, you have to create it and work and push towards it. You need to learn how to fail for it. I have failed more times than I can even count. It’s also because of an incredible support structure that I’ve had, but I’ve also learnt looking back, I did not have these insights going forward, I did not have them. But I knew that it was through very small, tiny interactions, learnings, lessons, that I accumulated on my path, that I think it’s helped me come to this point today. I don’t know, but I think so. These are the lessons that I’ve learnt and hopefully, they will assist you to. Thank-you so much.